London

Missing Novacks? Get some of its vintage goodies at a pop-up shop

Since setting up shop in 1939, Novacks became a landmark for the city. It sold everything from army surplus, to luggage, and even outdoor camping gear before it closed down in 2013.

Novacks operated on the corner of King and Clarence streets from 1939 to 2013

Novacks' former owner, Paul Caplan, reminisces its beginnings as a music and luggage store. Now some of its popular goods will be available at pop-up markets across London. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

For decades, it was known as 'London's most interesting store'.

Novacks became a landmark for the city, opening in 1939, selling everything from army surplus to luggage to outdoor camping gear before it closed down in 2013.

Now, Londoners looking to get their hands on some of those classic items and recreate the nostalgia, can do so at various pop-up markets happening across the city.

The store initially started off as a music and luggage shop by Toronto-based violinist Harry Novak, who moved to London during the Great Depression. But it quickly evolved into a one-stop-shop for people looking to buy military-style clothing.

"Before you know it, he [Novak] became a surplus store and that fashion has kept on for the last 50 years," former owner Paul Caplan said. "People find value in surplus, and that's a statement in itself."

Caplan, Novak's son-in-law, said the store got its infamous name by accident when an extra letter was added to the sign outside its 211 King Street location, which the original owner decided not to change.

Novacks located on 211 King Street on the corner of Clarence Street was given its name after the letter 'C' was accidentally added to the sign, which the original owner Harry Novak decided not to change. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

'A downtown staple'

Marty Kolls felt a strong connection to Novacks when she first came to London in the 90s. So when she was asked to work with Caplan to organize the pop-up markets, the answer was an immediate yes, she said. 

"Novacks was a staple in downtown, for sure. It had all kinds of curiosities, fashion and travel gear. It was just a fun store to go into, and it was clear that it was very worldly," she said. 

Kolls said she bought her very first travel backpack and hiking boots from Novacks which she took on her travels around around the world.

Paul Caplan and Marty Kolls hope the pop-up markets can bring the vintage touch of the surplus store back to Londoners. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

The best part of Kolls' job is hearing all the ways in which Novacks has touched people's lives throughout the years, she said.

"For the kids who grew up going to school in downtown, this was the spot they'd all come and hang out at. It was just such a reference for so many people. And it's more than just London...people were coming out of town to acquire these items," she said.

"I've had so much fun working these pop-up shows just for the sheer sake of the memories these people are coming up with. It has such an interesting history for a multitude of reasons."

Caplan's favourite memory is purchasing a a Soviet era de-commissioned periscope in 1989 which is still at the store. He travelled all the way to Kansas City to buy it and believes it was sold to him by undercover CIA agents at the time, he said.

Paul Caplan looking through a Soviet era periscope which he says was one of his fondest purchases for the store. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

"These are beautiful pieces of artistry that have stood the test of time. It's history now, but there are still pieces of it to be found that were originally from maybe even 100 years ago," he said. 

Novacks' next pop-up sale will be on the first weekend of December at 211 King St. More information can be found on their social media site.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isha Bhargava is a multiplatform reporter for CBC News. She's worked for Ontario newsrooms in Toronto and London. She loves telling current affairs and human interest stories. You can reach her at isha.bhargava@cbc.ca or on Twitter @isha__bhargava

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